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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

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***

No, plan B is enforcing plan A… and the minute you stop believing me mother fucker, that’s it! 

I enjoy Tony Scott movies.  He is my favorite action/adventure director because he is so damn consistent.  (See https://jabrody.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/unstoppable/) While this movie is less clever than the original it overcame the primary obstacle/draw.  I refer to the two movie star leads, Denzel Washington and John Travolta.  Denzel Washington plays a Metro Transit Authority muckety muck who is working dispatch while he is under investigation for accepting a bribe.  I was extremely wary of accepting Washington as some shmoe behind a microphone who gets thrust into a hostage negotiating situation.  In the original, Walter Matthau played the MTA worker.  Ask yourself, who is easier to believe as a shmoe who might not save the day, Matthau or Washington?

As for the villain, John Travolta takes over for Robert Shaw.  Shaw brought a gravity that Travolta does not, but Travolta does not go over the top a la Face/Off or Operation Swordfish.  Travolta exchanged cold callousness for a single-minded loose cannon.  Until to the end he remains a fascinating character.

Lastly, the original had a strong supporting cast, as does this one.  In my experience, Luis Guzman is someone who always makes a movie better.  Fortunately, Luis Guzman is in this movie.  While James Gandolfini and John Turturro lack Guzman’s consistency, they both submit strong performances.  While I may prefer the original, I do not mind this sequel.

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The Two Escobars

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****½

The police had arrived at our families homes.  One should not have to worry about such things before a game.

This is a fascinating documentary and I can understand why people were annoyed that it did not get nominated for any Academy Awards.  It does an excellent job of presenting the dual narratives of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and national team captain Andres Escobar.  The film presents Pablo as the cutthroat murderer that he was, but also highlights the many positive things that he did with his money.  Moreover, it shows how the Feds, US, and other cartels ganged up to unleash a greater terror on Colombia than Pablo ever did.  We hear from an amazing collection of people– players, coaches, politicians, relatives, and criminals.

Early in the film you get the connection between the two Escobars.  Pablo owned Nacional, a team from Medellin, for which Andres played.  Pablo needed to launder money and loved soccer, so it just made sense.  Since the film opens with Andres’ infamous own-goal in the world cup, you know that he is doomed, but as you get to know him you learn that he was the pride of Colombia.  It’s interesting how that dread shifts into a happiness for Colombia and then you root for both Escobars although they were both doomed.

The oddest part of the story is how the national team’s goalie could not attend because he had been arrested for mediating a kidnapping.  Guilty or not, the authorities actually arrested him for speaking to the media after visiting Pablo in his personal prison–The Cathedral.  The entire team had played a game with him earlier in the prison, but that was not public knowledge.  Perhaps if their star goalie had played at least one of the Escobars would have made it out of this documentary alive.

Without a Clue

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***½

Of course not.  He knows you’re an idiot.

You know that this will not be like every other Sherlock Holmes story when the opening scene ends with Dr. John Watson raising his cane and calling Holmes a “bloody idiot.”  To which Holmes replies, “What did I say?  I did everything you told me to do!”  A marvelous start to this forgotten flic from the 1980’s.  If you do not recognize the stars, then the credits tell you that Michael Caine (Holmes), Ben Kingsley (Watson), and Jeffrey Jones (Inspector Lestrade).  It even shows that Henry Mancini provides the music–always a charming listen.

If it’s not clear enough, Caine plays an actor who portrays a Holmes at the behest of Watson who invented Holmes to explain who had solved a mystery for a Scotland Yard inspector.  When the public demanded to meet Holmes then Watson quickly Caine’s actor to portray him.  When Watson tires of “Holmes,” he notices that the name Dr. John Watson does not open doors the way that the name Holmes does.  If this premise seems not too contrived, then you should enjoy this cute film.  Michael Caine brings a wonderful comedy to his portrayal, particularly when he gets to portray the mixture of fear and dread he exhibits whenever he hears the name Professor Moriarty.  I wish that this had spawned a series of Dr. John Watson movies, ah well, at least there is this one.  *Clap, clap, clap*

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx

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**½

You Yagyu’s tactics are despicable!

Spoilers:  there is no River Styx in this movie.  In fact, the line is a reference to the River of the Three Hells from Japanese mythology, but it is only mentioned in passing.  More spoilers:  the one character you want the former Shogun executioner to kill–Yagyu Sayaka–he permits to live.  Maybe it is because she is the only character who shows growth, maybe it is because he grew fond of her when he ripped off her clothes so that they could huddle together with his son for warmth.  Lone Wolf and Cub 2 presents many of these questions that a healthy dose of common sense might dispose of, but this is feudal Japan in the 1970’s.  Sayaka cackles a lot and confidently asserts the superiority of her ninjas’ technique after Lone Wolf and Cub has literally killed every single one of them.  Of course he is an overweight ronin with a small child whose primarily spends his days squinting and grunting his way through forests, towns, sand dunes, and boat rides.  So why would he be anything other than a killing machine?

While I enjoyed the first Lone Wolf and Cub, I think this might be like the The Matrix where the first film kicked ass, but the sequels only remind you by having some of the same characters.  Also, the poor little boy whom the assassin is trying to raise, actually kills someone with his baby cart.  He is approximately four years old!  Unfortunately I think we all know how this story ends.  Cub turns into a teenage jack the ripper, since the only way he can achieve sexual arousal after seeing his father cut through dozens of men and women will be through blood.  While I may not watch Lone Wolf and Cub 3, 4 and 5, I feel comfortable that my assumption regarding his character is probably accurate.

The Last Station

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****

Why should it be easy? I am the work of your life, you are the work of mine. That’s what love is!

The first four actors shown are Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, and James McAvoy.  That impressive core of actors each receive the opportunities to showcase their craft.  To make room for all of the dialogue the film progresses at a tempo that seems far to fast for an elderly Lev Tolstoy (Plummer), but of course this film’s title is a play on where Tolstoy died, so perhaps I should give the director more credit than I would have instinctually.  With so many talented actors, how hard could it be to produce a good movie?

This film seems to be structured around pendular nature of love, so the main characters each get their own love story.  The director made an interesting choice of mentioning love with a quote as the film starts, but then shows Countess Tolstaya (Mirren) failing to (a)rouse Tolstoy from his slumber.  Next we see a young Bulgakov (McAvoy) demonstrating to the lead Tolstoyan (Giamatti’s Chertkov) that he knows that Tolstoyans frown upon sex, which fits with the first glimpse of Tolstoy.

The film has beautiful costumes and sets, so of course each woman in this film is beautiful too.  Quickly Bulgakov wants them, but this challenge to his first love, Tolstoyanism, seems doomed to fail since he is so sincere in his convictions.  However, once he sees that the Countess does not believe in Tolstoyanism, and that even Tolstoy only came to his beliefs late in life.  Even at this advanced stage he does not conform to the image the Chertkov creates for him.  The most attractive woman in the film, Masha (Kerry Condon), proves a more formidable challenge to Bulgakov’s beliefs and represents the idea of young love.  Condon played Octavia years ago in Rome and a girl who treats Jet Li like a man in Unleashed, so it was nice to see her again.  Tolstoy and the Countess discuss the power of first love and how it dies hard.  The film shows that first love can apply to a person, an idea, or oneself (Chertkov).

Unfortunately, the manifestation of love seems to be the challenge it provides to living the life you want.  We see debates/fights over Tolstoy’s will, about family versus beliefs, and on keeping people apart.  Not an exciting film, but it is both thought provoking and well crafted.

3-Iron

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****½

Shoot me.  Make my day.

20 minutes into the film: no dialogue from the main characters so far.  This, coupled with Seung-yeon Lee’s breaking and entering, creates an odd sense of violation, similar to watching The Edukators.  Unlike that film, this has a much more subtle message.  Unlike the message, the name 3-Iron, while at first confusing in the artistic credits becomes readily apparent.

On the whole, it’s an odd and poetic film, that occasionally relies on some easy devices–like having an abusive husband or violent prison guard.  Regardless, I really like how there are consequences for the actions each of the characters take in this.  The events do not just occur in a fantasy world where people are cool with having their homes invaded, even if nothing is taken and they find their electronics have been repaired and their clothing laundered.  When a golf ball strikes someone it does damage.  This could easily have been a shitty American comedy, but instead it took me to weird places.  Ki-duk Kim deserves credit for that choice and for turning this film into something more menacing that it would have otherwise been.  When it looks like it will turn into a revenge film I immediately checked if Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) directed it–which is a high compliment.

Returning to the main character, Lee does not say anything for the duration of the film.  Hyun-kyoon Lee appears to be made for him, since she may be mute as well.  An invisible woman for an invisible man.  I hope that’s not a spoiler.  In fact, I do not think it spoils the film to know that at all.  The muteness still should make you long for some words, much like Russian Ark’s 0 cuts, where I knew that the film was shot in one long take, but repeatedly thought, “Whoa, they still haven’t cut!”  On an even more personal note, I can still recognize a bottle of Ballantine’s 17 year.  Even before they showed part of the label.  I have a drinking problem and that problem is that I remember too much about alcohol bottles and not enough about how they taste.  That was a very good scotch and this is a great film.

Under Siege

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***

You’re in the Navy, remember? It’s not a job, it’s an adventure!

This movie does not suck.  Steven Seagal’s good–which is a surprise; Tommy Lee Jones is good–not a surprise; and Gary Busey plays a crazy person like an actor who is not crazy would–surprise again.  On the whole, this was more ham and cheese than hamming it up and cheesy.

The soundtrack reminded me of The Usual Suspects, which is a good thing.  The end fight scene reminded me a late night movie on USA, which is a bad thing.  While you could tell that Seagal wielded his own knife, it was clear that Tommy Lee Jones needed a stunt double.  All told, this is the best Steven Seagal movie ever!

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